St. Joe's freshman Bembry welcomes the madness

St. Joe's freshman Bembry welcomes the madness

March 13, 2014, 12:45 pm
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DeAndre' Bembry was named 2014 Atlantic 10 Co-Rookie of the Year. (AP)

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"I love bigger games. That's when my most talent comes out."

- St. Joe's freshman DeAndre' Bembry

Once, during an AAU trip when he was a sophomore in high school, DeAndre' Bembry cut his hair right before having a bad game.

Since then, Bembry has decided to let his hair grow -- and he hasn’t had many bad games since.

Now a freshman at St. Joe’s, the afro-sporting swingman has been the missing piece on a Hawks team that, despite two straight losses to finish the regular season, is closing in on the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2008.

And heading into the Atlantic 10 tournament at the Barclays Center -- the fourth-seeded Hawks (21-9, 11-5 A-10) open up Friday (2:30 p.m., NBCSN) against the winner of today’s Dayton-Fordham matchup -- Bembry is expecting more people will get to know the frosh with the ’fro.

“I love bigger games,” he said. “That’s when my most talent comes out -- in bigger games against the best talent. So I’m looking forward to it.”

It’s hard to imagine Bembry playing too much better than he already has.

In the starting lineup since day one, the 6-foot-6 swingman currently ranks third on the team in scoring (12.2 ppg), rebounding (4.5), assists (2.6) and field goal percentage (46.7) and leads the squad in steals (1.0). And throughout much of the season, he’s been guarding the opposing team’s top player.

Earlier this week, he was rewarded for his stellar season when he was named the 2014 Atlantic 10 Co-Rookie of the Year, sharing the award with Rhode Island’s E.C. Matthews. Bembry was joined on the all-conference team by senior teammates Langston Galloway (first team), Halil Kanacevic (second team) and Ronald Roberts (third team) -- all of whom have greatly benefited from the freshman’s arrival.

“As soon as I saw him play a couple of times, I was like, ‘This kid is good,’” said Kanacevic, who leads the Hawks in rebounding (8.3), assists (4.4) and blocks (1.6) while averaging a career-best 10.3 points per game. “You can just tell when someone has a feel for the game.”

For Bembry, who called Kanacevic and Roberts “the two best post players in the Atlantic 10,” it’s been just as beneficial having so many experienced teammates on the court with him. And now the Hawks' newcomer is hoping to play well enough in Brooklyn to help Kanacevic, Roberts, Galloway and junior starting point guard Chris Wilson make their first trip to the NCAA tourney after two straight NIT appearances.

When asked what it would be like for him to see St. Joe’s pop up on the TV during Selection Sunday, Bembry immediately talked about the seniors.

“It would definitely mean a lot,” he said. “But I think it would really mean more to the seniors than it would for me.”

For the Hawks to make a deep run in Brooklyn and solidify their NCAA tourney footing -- ESPN bracketologist and St. Joe’s radio announcer Joe Lunardi currently has them as one of the last four teams in -- they’ll certainly need to get a lot of production out of both their star freshman and their veteran starters.

For longtime St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli, being recognized by the conference comes with the added obligation of performing well in March -- especially for a Hawks team that has little firepower off the bench.

“What those four guys are going to be told is that at this time of the year your best players have to play the best,” Martelli said. “There’s added responsibility when you receive accolades.”

It’s also the responsibility of those players to be able to bounce back from two straight losses, including an ugly one in Sunday’s home finale to Big 5 rival La Salle, and shift their attention to winning three games in Brooklyn, capturing an Atlantic 10 championship, and, of course, making the 68-team NCAA tournament field.

“I would hope we would be appropriately disappointed because we came out of character on Sunday,” Martelli said. “We didn’t play mentally, emotionally or physically the way we had played 29 games prior to that.

“This is an older group. They understand. And they’re going to be reminded about the opportunities that are in front of us.”

It’s an older group that’s been boosted by the dynamic play of a freshman.

A freshman that’s ready for the madness of March.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Bembry said. “I’ve always wanted to be in this situation.”